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  1. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Contributing Member

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    How do you convey age?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Apollypopping, Mar 31, 2017.

    My main cast ranges in age from 23 to around 40. I'm not sure how to convey ages without writing,

    'Margot is twenty-three.'

    Their precise age isn't important but I'm not too sure how to show it, in this instance.

    Any tips?
     
  2. The Arcane

    The Arcane Member

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    There is no way you could convey that a character is twenty-three in specific, but you could show that a character is significantly younger than another by exaggerating a level of maturity between the two. Do this through dialogue, not narration.

    If you are truly stuck, make it someone's birthday.
     
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  3. izzybot

    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    There's a thread back here that you might find interesting.

    If you're working with a contemporary setting, you can use things like whether a character knows how to drive or has held down a stable job, though those are things that are more helpful with younger characters. I typically go for comparisons to other characters - describe one as old enough to be another's parent, or as 'a little younger/older than [other character]', but that does require as least some impression of how old the basis character is.

    Physical descriptors like a weathered face or graying hair help - and can be played with; I have a character who starts seriously graying in his mid-twenties, so I could describe his hair as a counter example of how old he is ("graying hair despite his age" etc) - and vague terms like 'middle-aged' give you a range to work within.

    There are maturity markers, as well - a character who always acts selfishly or petulantly is probably going to be assumed to be on the younger side, and one who's always jaded and resigned will probably come across as older, and like my gray-haired twentysomething those can also be used to contrast their actual age if they're an adult who acts like a bratty child.

    Ultimately, it depends on how important their exact ages are. I almost always have specific ages figured out for my characters, but they don't tend to actually figure into anything. In my current wip I know that the mcs are 25 and 32, but would it really matter if people assumed they were both 24 or so? Eh, not really. The younger one's age comes up more because their parents had more kids when they were 19, so them being an adult with quite young siblings is weird and remarked-upon, but the older one could be any age around that area. That's all that really matters.
     
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Possibilities for the 23 year old.
    • She's recently graduated from college and is in her first job.
    • Her little brother just turned 18 and she talks to him about his first legal drink.
    • Her little brother just graduated from high school.
    • A male friend, perhaps a former college classmate, gripes that he's been subject to the draft for three years but only now can drink legally. (So I just moved the drinking age to 21.)
    • She reminisces about her own high school graduation in some way that makes her current age guessable.
    • She grumbles about her car insurance rates.
     
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  5. Lew

    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just think about when you would state your exact age ( I am 23!) and put it in dialogue, if it is a place you would say that. If you are narrating, no need to be overly specific: early twenties. My two MFCs are both about the same age, early 20s and both had traumatic incidents when they were twelve. So they talk about what happened ten years ago, "before my breasts even budded, before I bled for the first time" (this is 2000 years ago) and let that be specific enough. My senior officer may command a legion when he gets back so .... late thirties? And he and his centurion have been soldiering since the officer was a green subaltern tribune and the soldier a fresh-caught miles, and the centurion is expecting his retirement so ... late thirties, early forties?
     
  6. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Contributing Member

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    Funny you should mention that, my 23 year old is graying.

    You're probably right, it's only really important for my 40ish year old. Even then I could probably squirm out of mentioning it entirely.

    The youngest and the oldest aren't at all fans of each other, maybe I can work with that.
     
  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    • The children of former classmates are in high school, and one has already graduated.
    • People who were born since he became an adult, are now adults. This was an "Oh, my God" thing for me.
    • He gets his twenty years certificate from his employer, and finds it depressing.
    • He just hit twenty years, and now gets four weeks' vacation per year!
    • If he's a she, the window for having kids is closing or closed.
    • He reminisces about his twenty-years high school reunion, and debates whether he's going to go to the twenty-five-year.
    • The twenty-years college reunion is coming up this year.
    • Edited to add: Of course, if he has kids, high school or college is coming up for them.
     
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  8. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Contributing Member

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    I will probably use this, thank you.

    Other wise, they're all 'technically' in Rehab. So jobs and home life are absent or on hold.
     
  9. ExpiredAspiration

    ExpiredAspiration Member

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    To convey age I would concentrate on how a character does something rather than what he or she is specifically doing. For example, a child is more likely to be restless during a long bus ride home while a more mature character might be struggling to stay awake, it boils to down to both of them waiting for their stops and yet there's such a distinction between the two. Likewise, this also applies to dialogue, it isn't as crucial to focus on what a character is specifically saying rather than how they say it. An adolescent might mutter or speak to their parents in exasperated exhales of angst while a young child might prounounce each syllable with bouncing enthusiasm.
     
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  10. Skye Walker

    Skye Walker Active Member

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    Oooh, this is something I can help with. Yesterday, I think, I was having trouble with showing how old one of my MCs was. In the end, I conveyed it through dialogue.

    “Who are you to judge, anyway? You’re twelve!”


    “Well, in order, I’m Maddox, I’m fourteen, and I’m not the one acting like a twelve-year-old!” Maddox hissed, standing up.

    And, in another spot:

    Leo stared blankly. “Are you nine.”

    “Teen.”

    Not sure if this helps or not, since my characters are sort of young and value the exact number of years they've been alive a lot more than adults do, but eeeh, thought I'd try.
     
  11. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Contributing Member

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    I love this hahaha.
     
  12. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_tribune

    "A military tribune (Latin tribunus militum, "tribune of the soldiers", Greek chiliarchos, χιλίαρχος) was an officer of the Roman army who ranked below the legate and above the centurion"...so a Centurion could be described as "a green subaltern tribune"
     
  13. Lew

    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nope. A centurion was an up from the ranks soldier, comparable to a modern senior NCO or warrant, as he had officer responsibilities. See "The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: from the First Century CE to the Third." He would typically be in his late thirties, early forties. A tribune was typically equestrian class or high, but came in like the "baby brown bar" 2nd LT at around 18-20, had to grow into responsibilities, and may be HQ staff without command responsibilities.
     
  14. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributing Member

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    In my WIP, I slip in the ages of two characters during a quick bit of exposition...

    For a middle-aged man, Gael retained a tireless vitality. The man who managed animal acts at an opera house in decline, and at present, with a twelve year old girl in tow, resembled a disheveled lion that had a penchant for bourbon and brothels. A deep scar cut across his left cheek, a souvenir he had acquired on one of his travels; whether it was given him by a leopard or bear, one could not be certain, for the details had a habit of changing from one telling to the next, embellished always with wine, while the truth was shared only with the perpetrator herself — a jealous lover, a Negress from one of the southern islands.
     
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  15. Ettina

    Ettina Active Member

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    You mean drug rehab, or something similar? Because even in rehab, home lives & work are relevant. Characters may discuss getting into trouble at work, or finding work stressful, or they may mention the impact that their issues may have on their families. They may also be visited by family, or get "get well soon" cards from work or school. Those who are in school of some sort might be doing homework or studying to try to catch up. (My brother was hospitalized for depression briefly in high school, and they made him do homework there.) Characters might also show areas of expertise, and when asked, explain that the skill is related to their job or university major.
     
  16. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    [DRAFT 2]

    For a middle-aged man, Gael retained a tireless vitality.

    'Yes, I adore that middle-aged man,' he said.

    The man who managed animal acts at an opera house in decline, and at present, with a twelve year old girl in tow, resembled a disheveled lion that had a penchant for bourbon and brothels.

    'Hic,' he roared, and dragged the child by his tail.

    A deep scar cut across his left cheek, a souvenir he had acquired on one of his travels; whether it was given him by a leopard or bear, or was self-inflicted by a lion, one could not be certain, for the details had a habit of changing from one telling to the next, embellished always with wine, but not with bourbon, while the truth was shared only with the perpetrator herself — a jealous lover, a Negress from one of the southern islands who was very exotic.
     
  17. Soapbox

    Soapbox Member

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    I think this would work well for a YA or a fantasy novel that has a much larger range of ages (say hundreds of years). It's humorous and I agree with the point that young people do value that. Just be careful when using it. Sometimes the reader needs to believe that the character they are identifying with is their age. I have read many books where I had trouble seeing the character as the announced age, instead choosing to believe they equaled my numbers.

    A great way to show is through action, dialogue, and back-story. I'm not suggesting an info-dump, but in the case of rehab, there can be discussions on how long they've struggled, what family members have gone through to get them there, etc. Their drug of choice could also be different if it works for your story. A young person, even in their 20's will have parents or some older meaningful person care deeply while someone in their 40's will have more peers and younger family (children) the reason they are there. I imagine a younger person to have a bit of an attitude still, while someone more seasoned will appreciate the second chance they're getting, but this could be stereotyping.

    The way the characters speak (or don't) will convey age and sometimes background. A Millennial and a Boomer will speak with different slang and even sentence length. The younger generations tend to overshare.

    I hope this helps, good luck!
     
  18. Lew

    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like it, exactly the kind of conversations kids that age have.
     
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  19. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Something Wicked this Way Comes. Contributor

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    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    By experience and wisdom of course. The younger will be cocky and bold,
    but not have those qualities. The Elder will be more sense-able and well
    reasoned.
     
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